Waiting for the launch of FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD is a bit of a strange experience. I’m excited, terrified, nervous, and can’t wait to get on with it, all at once. It’s a bit like the moment when you’re on a roller coaster and it has chugged slowly, slowly, slowly up to the top of the great big drop at the start of the ride. You’re teetering on the edge, about to plummet, and you’re stomach is a washing machine as you wait…then…. Well, you get the picture! That’s me right now!
Nerves aside, I’m very proud to give you a preview of the opening scene of my new crime thriller, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD. I’d tell you to enjoy, but I’m not sure that’s the right sentiment…
Breathing, feet, and baseline pound together as one as Julie reaches the end of the cul-de-sac and jogs onto the scrubland. The music is already loud but Lost and Not Found is her favourite Chase and Status tune so she fumbles for the volume and pushes it up further, even as she urges her legs to go faster, making her jet black ponytail bob up and down like crazy.
Running is the one thing she can always rely on to relax and invigorate her, although over the last few months she has completely abandoned it. She had needed all her energy to hold on to her sanity instead. This is her first day back running, and although she doesn’t want to push herself too hard she finds the sense of freedom exhilarating.
It has been a couple of weeks now since anything weird has happened, so clearly the anti-depressants are working. Things just hadn’t been the same ever since Julie had been under threat of redundancy at work. The stress of it all had really got to her. She had been tense, constantly angry and really forgetful, walking into a room to do the ironing to find it had already been done but had no memory of it; discovering she had already bought more milk when she would have sworn she had run out. Little things, but they had got to her.
The final straw had come when she had started crying on the train home after a particularly hard day in the office. No, not crying, that implied a few scattered tears she might have been able to hide behind her long hair extensions. This had been a full-on sob-fest, complete with runny nose, which she had been helpless to stop. Mortifying. The worst thing had been her fellow commuters staring resolutely anywhere but at her, praying silently that she would pull herself together.
The good thing about hitting rock bottom was that it had forced Julie to seek help. She had immediately been signed off work for a month, given medication, and put on the waiting list for counselling. At her GP’s suggestion she had also gone away on an impromptu holiday, booking it on a whim late one night and jetting off first thing the very next morning for a fortnight on the Greek island of Kos.
There was a slight set back when she had come home yesterday to a load of nettles some idiot had dumped on her porch. Hysteria had bubbled beneath the surface for a moment, as flowers and plants had been a big theme of her forgetfulness for some odd reason. Just as the doctor had taught her though, she had slowed her breathing, concentrating on it hard until the irrational fear passed.
It had been her doctor’s idea she start running again, too – one of his best. Now, she allows herself to be lost in the pounding music, to free her body to move in time with the beat. This area of scrubland is full of hummocks and holes hidden beneath the long grass, so she has to take care as she runs, watching where she puts her feet. She does not have to concentrate too hard though, knowing them almost off by heart, and she can’t help smiling; she feels lighter than she has in weeks. Already there is a glow of sweat on her dark skin.
As Julie pushes herself up the steep side of a bank, then flies over the top which abruptly levels out, she startles at a sudden movement. Her heart leaps up, thudding against her ribcage momentarily, then she swears in annoyance as she realises it was just a rabbit that was even more scared of her than she had been by it. She watches its pure white tail bobbing up and down then disappearing into heavy undergrowth at the side of the path.
A blur of movement on the side of her vision. Julie has barely begun to turn her head when pain explodes across her windpipe and she is gasping, wheezing, struggling to gulp in rapid, shallow breaths. What the hell has happened?
Her arms windmill as she stumbles from side to side, clawing at her throat and turning desperately this way and that to fight the panic, to stop the terrible pain, to get oxygen into her lungs.
Thank God, thank God, there is a man standing behind her, perhaps he can help.
Her bulging brown eyes grow wider as she silently pleads with him, trying to convey the urgency. She can’t breathe. Not enough air is getting into her body, the rasping loud, the pain unimaginable against her flattened windpipe.
He simply stands still, taking in the sight, before finally realising he needs to act. He drops the large stick he was holding as if ready to throw for a dog, and takes a step towards her.
“Help me!” Julie wants to say. “Please, help me.”
But nothing will come but the desperate sound of her struggling breathing. Her lungs burn with effort, and her vision is blackening around the edge. Legs wobbly and weakening as she fights the urge to sink to her knees
“Don’t worry, I’ll make it better,” he says, as though in reply to her silent plea. “I’ve got you, I’ve always got you. I’ll make it all go away.”
His voice is soft, soothing, and even in her panic she feels better.
Yes, yes, help me! Quickly…
“I’ll make it all better,” he croons. Takes another step, wrapping one arm around her as tight as a vice so that her own arms are trapped by her sides, unable to flutter around her neck trying to help pull in air.
Holding his body flush against hers, he presses against her gently but forcefully, like a lover. His hands twist into her long, dark ponytail and pull, exposing her throat, angling her face up towards his so that he gazes down at her.
Eyes as huge as a deer’s stare up into his. Julie has no real strength left now; the rescuer can clearly see the spark of life fading. She is suffering, poor thing. He can feel her heart pounding against his own chest as if hammering to get out and be allowed to breathe by itself. The whites of her eyes pink as tiny haemorrhages form.
His hand moves gently from Julie’s ponytail, feeling the gentle curl at the end bounce back up as his fingers let it go then travel slowly across her cheek, along her jawline, then down to her neck.
All the time, his eyes never leave hers. He is all sensation now and he revels in the moment.
Julie’s legs sag but the stranger is prepared, holding her against him as she swoons. Still she struggles for breath though, even as her noises become weaker, her chest barely trembling.
“It’s time, my love,” the man soothes. “But don’t worry. I’m here. I won’t leave you, ever.”
She realises then, her pupils growing wider as she stares helplessly up at him. Realises that he is not a stranger, that she has seen him before, many times, just on the edge of her vision, just at her fall into dreams. Her arms spasm against her sides, but she has nothing left to fight with.
He smiles gently at her recognition of him. Fingers caress her neck in feather-light strokes as he gazes down for one more beat of Julie’s heart, then seals his mouth over hers and kisses her goodbye. The strong hand stretching round her neck now, thumb gently finding the correct spot even as her mouth sags helplessly open against his, fighting for air, any air she can get, body jerking. With a groan of passion he squeezes her already crushed throat.
The moment it happens, the moment that Julie dies, she makes one last exhalation. He takes her last breath from her, aware of the second the tremble of her heart ceases. Still he holds her against him, relishing the magical moment of death. Finally, he lays her body reverentially on the ground.
There is just one more thing he has to do now. He knows he has to be quick, but it is important to do this right too. After all, this is all for Julie, not him. She had been unhappy and like an injured animal he had had no choice but to put her out of her misery. That is how much he loves her.
He takes his scalpel-sharp craft knife out and nods to himself as he prepares to get to work. He feels good; invigorated, relaxed, a rush like he is flying. He is free, knowing that he is doing the right thing. As the blade bites into flesh and blood blossoms, he starts humming to himself: Chase and Status’s Lost and Not Found.
All Adam ever wanted was to make Julie happy. Now, finally, he has. Soon he will be able to go home and tend to his garden; he has been away for far too long.